The Greatest Showman follows the story of Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum, a rags to riches tale of the inception of show business. Barnum, based on a real showman, inexplicably wins the heart of a girl several social classes his superior, and scrapes together a crew of outcast circus performers, alongside Zac Efrons Carlyle, to form his supposedly world-renowned show.

Its a well-known fact that the crux of a great musical is its ability to reel off hit number after hit number. Grease has maybe six or seven, Chicago probably has as many as nine. Heck, even High School Musical has one or two classics. The Greatest Showman, though, immediately smacks its nose on the ground falling over this first hurdle.



I’ve seen it twice now; I cant remember any of the songs, even though one of them seems to be propping up the entire film and production company, after its nomination for best original song at this years academy awards. Even if youd heard it you wouldnt remember it, such is its lack of any originality. All of the songs are innocuous accessories to what is an anaemic plot line anyway, useful only to be sold off on some bargain bin soundtrack album in five years’ time.

Its all too clear that The Greatest Showman is like a big ball of cotton candy – grand and sugary-sweet, all the while composed largely of hot air and cheap fake strawberry flavouring. Its all about the visuals, the glitz and glamour, nothing is real even the bits that stick to the actual story seem hard to buy.

That is exactly the problem. The dizzying colours, the green screens, the stuck-on moustaches. It’s a big, glossy, plasticky movie, steeped in fakeness and surface that never gives way for anything more substantial. From the awkward lip-syncing to the CG grandstand finish, The Greatest Showman just lacks authenticity. It seems to be too smooth a ride, lacking grit and dirt, or the smell of the greasepaint of a proper show business musical like Cabaret.

Then of course there’s Barnums entourage, made up of social outcasts, reminiscent of Tod Browning’s famous Freaks (1932). And thats brilliant. Diversity should be celebrated; this is what the film should hang its hat on. Alas, The Greatest Showman manages to clumsily trip over this second hurdle as well.

The issue is never really dealt with – I mean, its talked about, fleetingly, but the film can’t grapple with the idea long enough to turn it into a valuable moral. The film even stoops to uses them as comic relief at times, were supposed to laugh at the one with dwarfism or the one covered in hair, all the while Jackmans character bullies them, uses them, and profits from them.


Jackmans Barnum steals all the acclaim, he attends the fancy cocktail parties and flirts with the aristocracy, all the while shutting out his loyal crew. The films only charismatic force is simply flawed were even supposed to see his continued fidelity to his stay-at-home wife as some sort of achievement. The Greatest Showman takes on a pressing issue in todays day and age, and manages to somehow bypass it completely.

At the very least The Greatest Showman isn’t overtly offensive. It didnt seem to annoy too many punters, who streamed into the multiplexes in their droves to see this film, by the way. The real concern is that the $260m worldwide gross that the film raked in almost quadrupled its budget, a sequel with even less catchy songs and an even more contrived redemption plotline could very well be in the offing.

Clearly, though, the film found a rather sizeable audience. Although I’m convinced it won’t be remembered as anywhere near as fondly as musical classics gone by, it has seemingly resonated with millions, just as Barnum’s, quote, ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ did way back when.